OSHA: Businesses Upset by New Ergonomic Rules
New ergonomic rules announced yesterday by the Labor Department have met with the wrath of businesses, which argue that the new regulations will cost much more than the government anticipates. The regulations aim to prevent injuries from repetitive motion, overexertion and awkward position. The government believes the new rules will affect 27 million American workers, costing their employers about $4.2 billion each year to comply (Vitez/Gelles, Philadelphia Inquirer, 11/23). To improve working conditions, the labor department has suggested employers could redesign work stations, modify tools or equipment, change the pace of work or encourage employees to take short breaks. The rules will undergo a public comment period before they are take effect in late 2000. Businesses already have vowed to persuade the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to modify the proposal. Randel Johnson, vice president of the Chamber of Commerce, said, "The rules would cost businesses billions of dollars, but the benefits, if any, are uncertain. If OSHA goes forward with these rules, we will challenge them in court" (Pear, New York Times, 11/23). Republicans on the House Education and Workforce Committee, led by Chair Bill Goodling (PA), said yesterday that OSHA should delay action until a National Academy of Sciences study is completed in 2001 (Love, AP/Philadelphia Inquirer, 11/23). Despite outrage from businesses, Charles Jeffress, assistant labor secretary for occupational safety and health, said, "We are compelled to act. Employees are getting hurt. Workers are being sent home. People are suffering" (Crenshaw, Washington Post, 11/23). Ann Barr, an assistant professor of physical therapy at Temple University, said that the rules should actually cut costs. She added, "The companies I've worked with have reduced direct medical costs by a significant amount in a short period of time by detecting problems early, and preventing them ... when (workers are) still having mild and reversible symptoms."
"Dangerous" Nursing Homes
The Philadelphia Inquirer reports that nursing homes "are among the most dangerous places to work," as more than 18% of all nursing home workers are injured or become ill on the job, which is twice the national average for private industries. Many nursing home injuries result from lifting patients. Because of chronic understaffing, aides allege they are "sometimes forced to lift patients while working alone, risking injury to the worker as well as the patient." Andrew Stern, president of the Service Employees International Union, cheered the new rules, saying, "Enough is enough. Congress has blocked these standards for years, while millions have suffered." Alma Holder, founder of the National Citizens Coalition for Nursing Home Reform, added, "I think (the new regulations) are long overdue in this particular industry because they affect not only the workers but the people they care for" (Vitez/Gelles, 11/23).